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Fair Isn’t Always Equal



One of our most important jobs as parents is to model and set boundaries for our children. While developing boundaries, parents need to recognize the unique talents, personalities and strengths each child possesses. That said, fair is not always going to be considered equal in the eyes of our children. However, what is important is catering to our children’s individual gifts with opportunities, helping them feel empowered and special. 

Here are some examples of setting boundaries the fairest way we can while meeting our kids’ individual needs: 

Set emotional-age-appropriate boundaries 

Your child’s age might not match the privileges typically associated with her chronological age. If your child is 13, but has the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old, seeing a PG-13 movie may not be in her best interest. If your 14-year-old son wants a new cell phone, yet tends to misplace his belongings, he may not be cognitively mature enough to take on the responsibility of having a phone. 

Once behavior/maturity improves, a child’s desired privilege could be granted, creating a sense of achievement. 


Create opportunities 

If siblings participate equally in all activitiesit may be harder for them to feel significant. If one child displays greater independence and responsibility, she may acquire more chores, therefore generating a larger allowance. If your son is struggling in baseball, allow him the benefit of going to the batting cages without his brother. 


Develop a system 

Children thrive on consistency. You may need to sit next to your kindergartner and help with homework, yet your teen wants equal treatment. Consider setting up a system where your teen’s questions are held until he nears the end of homework, at which time you willingly assist. 


Pick your battles 

Your discipline or consequence may not be the same for every child. For example, a parent may not always reprimand back talk from a child who displays oppositional defiant characteristics, whereas another sibling may accrue a consequence for back talk.  


Choose significant consequences 

consequence for one child may not have the same effect on another. You have to look at what each child values. To one child, losing video games could be devastating, yet to another, insignificant. Find what drives them and set boundaries that cater to each child’s individualism, removing opportunities for children to negotiate, argue, or manipulate the situation. 


Here are some ways parents can respond when a child declares, “That’s not fair!”: 


Children benefit from knowing why there are special rules or needs for one sibling. When they can make sense of the difference, siblings often step up and want to nurture, motivate or help. 

Child: “Brody is allowed to stay up longer.” 

Parent: “Not only is he older, but his school starts later so he can sleep in.” 


Do not engage in comparing 

We can set specific rules for one child and understand there may be double standards. For example, if your child cannot regroup to do homework after playing with friends, set a limit for your child to complete homework and chores prior to seeing friends. This may not be the case for a child who does not have the same challenge with transitioning. 


Use rebuttals 

Eventually, your children will get desensitized by hearing the same statements. Consistency and lack of engagement may put an end to their scrutiny. 

“Fair isn’t always equal.” 

“Different rules for different kids.” 

“I’m not concerned right now about Kyley. I’m discussing you because I care.” 


Deep down, children want limits and boundaries. We’re all different—different 

children have different needs at different times. Most of all, children want to feel loved. 

Setting different boundaries will not only allow your children to embrace love, but feel 

independent, credible, confident and special. Fair may not be equal, but love is always constant. 


By // Stacey Bruen, MC, NCCLPC 

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